Variety is the spice of Wesley Stace's 'Cabinet of Wonders' 

click to enlarge Wesley Stace
  • Courtesy photo
  • Songwriter-novelist Wesley Stace, aka John Wesley Harding, brings his variety show to San Francisco next week.
Wesley Stace is a man who knows how to have a good time — especially performing with his friends.

Perhaps better known by his stage name John Wesley Harding, the British-born singer-songwriter and novelist handpicks the musicians, writers and comedians who appear with him in his acclaimed variety show “Cabinet of Wonders.”

The production, which has been a hit in New York since 2009, comes to San Francisco for the first time next week.

"There's a real sense of fun and occasion," says Stace, who lives in Philadelphia. "I wanted to bring together my novel-writing friends (who mostly envy my musician friends) and my musician friends (who mostly envy my novel writing friends) under one flag."

On Monday at the Jewish Community Center, he will be joined by comics Eugene Mirman and Bobcat Goldthwait; musicians Alec Ounsworth (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Dean & Britta, John McCrea (Cake) and John Roderick (The Long Winters); and writers Lisa Brown (“How to Be”) and Stephen Elliott (“The Adderall Diaries”).

Stace jokes that he makes it just theatrical enough so that “it doesn't appear like a bad benefit."

A busy man these days, Stace’s 19th recording, "Self-Titled,” on Yep Roc Records came out in September, and his Bay Area visit includes a concert stop Tuesday at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley.

"I practically whispered the demos when I did them because they were such quiet little songs," he says, describing the contents of the first album he has released under his birth name, leaving behind the stage name he took 25 years ago.

His reasoning: “Novels seem to take care of the intellectual business for me these days, and my songs have become a lot more intimate and autobiographical, requiring a different musical treatment entirely,” he says. “It seemed ridiculous to sing them under any name but my own.”

Meanwhile, his fourth novel, “Wonderkid,” comes out in February. The book is about a new wave band with a career that takes a sudden left turn when the group becomes wildly successful band for children.

Stace hopes that people who come to “Cabinet of Wonders” might discover an artist they haven’t seen before. He says, “Nothing on the bill isn’t great.”

IF YOU GO

Cabinet of Wonders

Where: Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $30 to $40

Contact: (415) 292-1233 or www.jccsf.org

Note: He also performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on a bill with Alec Ounsworth and John Roderick at Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley.

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Cathy Bowman

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